How to Stop Gossip in the Workplace

Gossip in the Workplace

Everything you say as a leader is amplified and we often don’t realize it.

I want to introduce you to this concept of what we call the gossip spiral.

The gossip spiral is a visual that shows what happens with gossip and it starts with Accidental Alice.

Accidental Alice could be any of us at any time, which is: I get overwhelmed, I get frustrated, I get mad, I have some rejection, or something goes wrong.

There’s any number of things that can trigger me as a human, to have a moment of frustration.

And in a moment of frustration, I vent. I let off steam.

I say something to Becky Bystander and Becky Bystander happens to just be exactly that–she’s a bystander.

She happens to catch wind of what I am saying.

Maybe I’m saying something frustrating about a person or a process or something that happened to me.

Maybe I’m muttering that this always happens or that person on my team has always their way.

Or I hate this, or I hate that.

Part of that just happens. We are all going to have these moments.

The responsibility is somewhat on Accidental Alice. We want to work hard to not vent inappropriately to the wrong people and figure out healthy ways of letting off that stress and steam.

But the real issue is with Becky Bystander. Why?

Because Becky Bystander is a good citizen of the community.

Let’s say Alice says something a little bit negative about Cindy.

Well, Becky is not trying to start anything. She is trying to help people. She is trying to create harmony and she is trying to make sure we all get along.

What does Becky Bystander do?

She tells Cindy, “Hey, Cindy, I don’t know if you know this, but you really hurt Alice’s feelings.”

Becky is trying to do the right thing. She is not trying to cause problems. She is just trying to support Alice and Cindy’s relationship.

The problem is what Alice told Becky about what happened is not what happened.

It is an amplified version of what happened.

All of us always share. 

Not always, but all of us typically share an amplified version of what happened.

And every time we tell the story, it gets more amplified. 

Even if we are not deliberately trying to amplify it, it gets amplified by the fact that we are repeating the story in the third person.

If you ever noticed how two people will say nasty things about each other to other people, but when you put them face to face, they do not talk like that to each other?

That is because we do not talk that negatively about each other when we are face to face.

Even though Becky is trying to be a good citizen, what she does not realize that when Alice is telling the story, it gets amplified. 

And when she tells Cindy, even if she’s trying to deliver it delicately, it gets amplified.

Then when Cindy hears it, she becomes Charged Up Cindy.

And what is Cindy going to do? She is going to go to Alice and say that I heard you said “XYZ.” 

What do you think Alice is going to say? Alice is going to say that she did not say that. She will deny it.

Guess who ends up getting caught in the middle?

Becky Bystander.

By trying to make this better, she actually made it worse.

What happens is this gossip spiral.

Everybody hates gossip.

We all assume we are never the ones gossiping but gossip is not just deliberately spreading rumors.

Gossip is also relaying any third-party complaint.

That is the deal.

Gossip isn’t deliberately spreading rumors. It is relaying any third-party complaint.

How do You Stop Gossiping?

rory vaden quote

What do you do here? How do you resolve this?

It is quite simple.

Instead of propagating it forward, you must redirect it back to the source.

That is the key.

It is that simple. 

It is. 

You do not pass anything along.

You never pass anything along.

You redirect it back to the source.

If it’s a conflict between two people, try suggesting that Alice needs to take it up directly with Cindy. 

And if it becomes so serious, tell them they need to resolve this with Cindy. And if they don’t, then you are going to tell Cindy with them.

You are going to force this to happen so that they can work through this, but this going around can be super-duper, super-duper dangerous.

We want to realize that gossip or saying anything remotely or even suggestively negative about another person in their absence is one of the most obvious signs of self-centered weakness in a person’s character.

We just want to drive people back to the source.

That is the key. 

If you’ve ever been caught in between two people, you will see that this is always true. One of your friends will say something nasty, but then when they’re talking to each other, they do not talk like that to each other.


Because they know it is not true.

The reason they were telling you was not that it’s true. It is because they were venting frustration.

What venting is like is truth multiplied by emotional frustration.

The whole point of sharing it is the venting of it. It’s no longer just truth.

But when we communicate directly, we must have honest conversations. That’s how we resolve things. 

Whether it’s between two people or it’s an issue with the company, you direct it back to the source. Take it up with the person who can do something about it.

It’s really important.

This is something that we must watch for. If we propagate bad things about each other, the product, the company, or the leaders, that will become true. People will believe it to be true.

And if we believe those things to be true, then we can never undo them.

Until we’re protecting each other, until we’re going directly to the source, until we’re unified, until we’re giving each other the benefit of the doubt, we can never undo it.

By the way, this is true about us too. This comes from way back with Take the Stairs where we introduced this framework called the self-talk cycle, which is you think it, then you speak it. Then you act, then it happens.

How about you? Do you see this in your life or your workplace? Do you intentionally nip this gossip spiral in the bud when appropriate?

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